The Concept of Jihad and Terrorism under Islamic Law: The 1804 Dan Fodio Jihad And the Boko Haram

Sanator Abubakar sadiq yar adua

There are a number of scholars and commentators on terrorism in Western, non-Muslim countries who regard the concept of Jihad in Islam and terrorism as one and same thing. Most often than not, in my view, the two notions are treated as tightly linked or related concepts. But are they? Are there any fundamental nexuses between them either within the post-911 definition(s) of ‘terrorism’ or the long established principles of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence which, evidentially, establish a link between the two concepts?

Indeed, a closer examination of these notions may reveal the existence of key distinguishing features in terms of ideology, philosophy, methodology, objectives, tactics, characteristics and strategies. It is my submission that such an examination can be achieved through a comparative analysis of classical examples of the two. This is what this article intends to do by analysing the 1804 Usman bin Fodio movement (a classical Jihadi group) and the Boko Haram (a typical terrorist organisation).

This write-up is introductory. It aims to lay the basic starting points of its thesis. In the next writ-up I will lay bare the evidence to support my position. This I intend to do by presenting compelling data on the various engagements, pronouncements, declarations and direct acts and deeds of the major protagonists of the two movements. For a clear understanding of the frame-work (s) within which this article stands, it is important to begin by asking the question: what is Islamic Law and what does it say about Jihad and terrorism (violence)?

Islamic Law is a codified set of legal rules and regulations that regulate and govern the behaviour, attitude, comportment and general conduct of a Muslim faithful’s life. It is generally an expression of a Muslim’s total submissiveness to God (Allah). This includes his relationship with his Creator; rituals and practices {acts of worship}, and his relationship with his family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and the community. The code (known formally as Sharia Law) stipulates the manner in which the instrumentality and institution of government is formed, structured and organised, as well as the state’s duties, obligations and responsibilities to its citizens. It defines the state’s domestic policy, foreign relations and its conduct in peace and war.

However, scholars differ in what type of law is Islamic Law. Some contend it is a Law that is in the realm of Divinity since its major corpus of legal contents are the Qur’an, which contains the words of Allah and the Sunnah (deeds and sayings of the Prophet). Others however insist that Islam or its laws are not static since in practice it is a religion amenable to societal changes and advancement {Alwazna, R., 2016}. For them the Qur’an and the Sunnah are not the only sources of Sharia Law. Other sources, such as Ijma {agreement of jurists}, Qiyas {analogical deduction} and ijtihad {application by a lawyer of his faculties before the authorities of law}, exist and do complement the Qur’an and the Sunnah. On this basis, they say, Islamic law is not a divine law but a jurists law, just as the civil law is a legislator’s law and the common law a judge’s law (Khdir, R., 2018) and (Ali, S. and Rehman, J., 2005).

Terrorism, according to some writers, can be both controversial and difficult to conceptualise or define (Tilly, 2004), and defining the term could be unjustifiably one-sided (Blakely, 2007) profoundly descriptive and substantially subjective (Tilly, 2004). In general terms, therefore, terrorism is a notion that evokes a mental picture of violence and cruelty and such other associated forms of violent conduct against society. Nonetheless, since the events of 9th September, 2011, it’s been commonly defined as the “deliberate and co-ordinated” acts of violence perpetrated by non-state players against un-armed, non-combatant personnel, designed to induce fear or for the purposes of achieving certain political objective(s) (Tosin, 2007) or to influence the behaviour of government or other people/groups (Olojo, 2017).

Jihad, under Islamic law, on the other hand, is a concept that is broad and multi-dimensional (Khadir, R., 2018). It largely refers to an individual’s or a community’s strive to purify himself/ itself especially towards God (Allah). The term simply means struggle. It actually stems from the Arabic verb jahada, meaning to struggle or exert (Ali, S., and Rehman, J., 2006).

Within the framework of Islamic Law, there are two types of jihad. The first is external Jihad, which in most cases is to challenge real or perceived acts of oppression against the Ummah (community/society/nation) or the Islamic faith. When Muslims strive for a just cause in society; as in the defence of life, territory, property, or the (Muslim) faith (Sulaiman, 1986), they are, therefore, regarded as being in jihad or jihadists. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have described this type of jihad as ‘minor jihad’. Normally it is waged by the community/society, and/or when decreed by (its) leaders.

The second type is internal jihad which happens when an individual Muslim faithful strives to self-exert or self-purify by showing devotion or strict compliance to the commandments of Allah (Ali, S., and Rehman, J., 2006). The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have labelled this type of jihad as the “greatest/highest/ best” form of jihad. Those who engage in this are equally regarded as performing jihad or jihadists. In other words, Jihad is not violence or terror, as misconstrued by many. In fact, Islam abhors and strongly condemns violence and terror or even taking the life of anyone except as prescribed by law (the Sharia code). It is the same as in the common law.

Islam was introduced to parts of Nigeria (generally in Western Sudan) between 8th and 9th Century. Ever since, the religion has become a significant player in the laws, history, culture, politics and daily practice of Muslims in the sub-region. This role has led to the rise and fall of notable Islamic states such as the Mali and Songhai Empires. In 1804, Usman bn Fodio, an Islamic scholar and reformer led a successful jihad against the ruling Hausa Muslim rulers. He mobilised and organised the Muslim faithful to rise and change the prevailing un-acceptable, anti-Islamic practices perpetrated and promoted by the ruling Habe rulers.

Since the end of that era, no notable Islamist movement surfaced in Nigeria until the advent of the Muhammadu Maitatsine uprising in Kano, in 1980 (Bodansky, 2015). The Maitatsine ‘riots’, as they were called were in the main protests against western culture and ideology particularly the acquisition of Karatun Boko or western education (Bodansky, 2015; Wadlow, 2015). It is this same anti-western education and ideology that, some scholars argue, became the raison d’etre for the emergence of Boko Haram, (Mauro, 2014; Zenn, 2014; Searcy, 2016; Ebony, 2017; Nachande, 2015). But its major objective was the establishment of a caliphate in Nigeria (Searcy, 2016).

Boko Haram or in its more formal name, Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lidda ‘awati- wal-Jihad, “People committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”, therefore, is a group that declared war against the West, its culture and the Nigerian state. It is simply referred to as Boko Haram – a combination of the Hausa word “Boko” and the Arabic word “Haram”. When combined, these words literally mean “western education is sinful” (Barna, 2014; Searcy 2016) or “forbidden” (Sergie and Johnson, 2014).

A number of academics who studied Boko Haram, (Zenn, 2014; Nachande, 2015; Wadlow, 2015; Oviesogie, 2013; Cook, 2011) agree that its philosophy is deeply rooted in “Al Qaeda’s Salafi Ideology – a Saudi Arabian medieval version of Salafism”. Like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, its progenitor terror groups, Boko Haram’s operational techniques, tactics and major strategies for success are indiscriminate violent attacks against non-combat civilian targets. They also kill and maim other Muslims especially those who reject their ideology and or interpretation of Islam, as well as, Christians who refuse to convert to Islam.

Empirical evidence indicates that its leaders are not well-educated or well-versed scholars, in the true context of Islamic scholarship, but small ‘preachers’ with restricted knowledge of Islam. They generally do not accept or adapt to mainstream Islam interpretation of Islamic laws, jurisprudence and principles (Cook 2011), as long established by the well-known Islamic Schools of Thought. Like ISIS and al-Qaeda, its adopted ideology is Salafism or Wahhabism. In broad terms, Wahhabism is the form of Islam that rejects modern influences in the practice and observance of the teachings of Islam, while Salafism seeks to create harmony or reconciliation between Islam and modernism. Both, however cling to fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, as well as rejecting some traditional Islamic teachings and practices. Because of this, they are sometimes described as two sides of the same coin.

The 1804 Jihad, was a movement that clearly operated on basic philosophies of Islamic Law. The Jihad itself arose mainly as a counterpoise to the injustices of Muslim emirs and their courtier-scholars, who bin Fodio called „Ulama’a as su; – “preachers of evil” (Sodiq, 1992). Substantial data collected by numerous researchers in the last 200 years do not give account of violent conduct or terrorism by the group. The Jihad’s modus operandi was in total compliance to rules of war and engagement as dictated by the Quran and the Sunnah (Ebony, 2017) and by traditional Sufism (Nachande, 2015).

Sufism or Tasawwuf, is a form of Islamic mysticism that promotes or inspires close spiritual relationship between the worshipper and his Creator. Most often it is regarded as a sect that embraces the philosophy of direct communion with God. Those who practice Sufism abhor worldly or material things and devote themselves to spirituality and the service of God in their purest traditional form (Khanam, F., 2011). It is an established fact that Usman dan Fodio, leader of the Jihad, practiced Sufism.

In fact, Bodansky (2015) and Nachande (2015) argue that he was an urbanised, pious scholar of repute. Relying on the earlier work of Olaosebikan (2011), Nachande stresses that dan Fodio was an articulate scholar and reformist who was educated “in classical Islamic science, philosophy and theology” and an “exceptional intellectual of vivid eloquence”. Likewise, the fundamental objectives of the 1804 Jihad was to reform the deteriorating Islamic practices, laws, culture and political system (Zenn, 2013) and the elimination of social injustices against the poor (Crowder, 1978; Milsome, 1979). The modus operandi of the jihad was social mobilisation largely through preaching and education.

Terrorism (violence) as defined under Islamic Law (or even by Western literature) was not on the agenda or a preoccupation of the Jihad. The1804 jihad embraced war largely when provoked or attacked – usually for defensive purposes – a clear injunction under Islamic Law. The movement was broad-based that unified oppressed masses; Fulani nomads, disgruntled Hausa peasantry and lumpen urbanites – all whom suffered under the corrupt Hausa regimes (Bodansky, 2015). Fighting unjust practices against society particularly against women and children, the weak and the poor is a clear command under Islamic Law.

Having now established some distinguishing differences between the 1804 Jihad and Boko Haram, it befits us to go a little deeper to unearth some wrong assumptions that some academics make chiefly to create a phantom link between Jihad and terrorism and specifically between the 1804 Jihad and the Boko Haram.

The starting point of their treatise is that jihadists and terrorists have a commonly shared religio-political ideology which is rooted in the ‘teachings of the Holy Qur’an’. Ebony (2017), for example, correctly asserted that the 1804 jihad derived its values from the scriptures of the Quran that makes fighting evil and injustice in society as a sacred duty of every Muslim. He contends further that the aim of all jihadists is the fulfilment of that Qur’anic duty, rightly adding that the 1804 Jihad was triggered by the evil that prevailed in Hausa-land perpetrated by Hausa Habe Emirs whose conduct was in contradiction to the principles and teachings of the Quran (Ochonu, 2015).

However, because Boko Haram and other terrorists movements, allude to these same provisions of the Qur’an as basis for their violent acts, some writers are quick to wrongly ascribe the word “Jihad” or ‘jihadists’ to define them. Unfortunately, some of these scholars do not even bother to examine and contextualise these Qur’anic provisions or critically examine the pronouncements of these terror groups. It is true, these movements from Al-Qaeda to Boko Haram tend to lay claim to the Qur’an as their source of motivation or the inspirational basis for perpetrating these heinous terrorist acts, the interpretations they give to these Qur’anic verses are obviously and totally not in conformity with mainstream interpretations.

Another argument, in line with this, is the assertion that both jihadists and terrorists share a global ideology ‘based’ on the principles of Islamic Law and Islamic Jurisprudence (?) which beckons them to work towards the purification of Islam and its spread globally. But how true is this claim and where is the evidence? To answer this question we need to first contrast the general core objectives of jihadists and of terrorists, particularly between the 1804 jihad and the Boko Haram.

According to Okene and Shukri (2011) the core objective of the 1804 jihad was to re-inforce Islamic laws and teachings, as the then Hausa Muslim leaders had completely abandoned the fundamental doctrines and teachings of Islam. On the other hand, Folade (2016) in his writing conclusively asserts that Boko Haram’s foremost objective was “to gain” political power and influence. Ryan (2016), makes similar conclusions when he said Boko Haram’s (main) objective was to shape the political landscape of the country.

The difference in objectives forms the core of the difference in strategies employed by jihadists and terrorists. Terrorists mainly rely on violence, typically un-conventional warfare, as weapon of war, with the aim of instilling fear in the target population (Turner, 2014). This is why Boko Haram hugs suicide bombings, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping, abduction of women and young school children (Chibok and Dapchi) and the capture and execution of journalists, aid workers etc., etc. (Simons, 2015), as well as undiscerning bombardments, (e.g. the bombing of the UN Country Headquarters in Abuja (Ogbonnaya, Kanayo, & Nancy, 2014). Such violent acts and tactics were never an attraction to the 1804 jihadists, in conformity with Islamic injunctions. Islamic law permits preaching and education as tools of social mobilisation not violence or war.

It does appear that both the 1804 Jihad and the Boko Haram phenomenon might have rested initially on motives relating to issues of social injustices, inequality, absence of equity and freedom in society typically in the distribution of economic resources, as Simons (2015) observed. Nevertheless, the 1804 jihad, as many writers contend, was mainly focussed towards reforming Islam and the re-establishment of equity and justice under established Islamic legal doctrines. Social mobilisation was the major weapon used and not haphazard violence or terrorism against the poor and the weak. On the other hand, Boko Haram from the onset, declared war not only against western civilisation, education and the government but directed against the population though indiscriminate bombardments, assassination and executions.

However, some academics try to indicate the existence of some connection between the dan Fodio jihad and the Boko Haram movement, unfortunately without substantiating their assertion or supporting it with clear evidence. What‘s more, most often than not such academics seem to ignore the very definition of the term “terrorism” they have adopted in their study. Scholars like Nwanaju (2012), assert that groups like Boko Haram, not-withstanding the differences in name, “have actually been engrossed with the mission of Usman dan Fodio”. Ebony (2017), was sharper as he concludes that Boko Haram is an extension of the “revolutionary zeal” of the 1804 Jihad. Thomson (2012), as cited by Ebony (2017) seems to agree with both positions stressing further that Boko Haram could be traced to the 1804 Jihad. He reaches this position simply because, according to him, both movements have called for the institutionalisation of sharia law in Nigeria – (as if there was Nigeria in 1804!).

Nevertheless, in spite of Ebony’s (2017) strident polemical conclusions that Boko Haram is an “offshoot” of the 1804 jihad and both are look a likes, he clearly appears to contradict himself by acknowledging that they are “radically different in many ways”. The problem here, is if they are different in many ways, how then has Boko Haram become an “offshoot” of the dan Fodio jihad? In consequence also, what is the basis of such conclusions and where is the evidence? Almost every writer does agree that Boko Haram members are terrorists and murderers while the group itself perfectly fits into contemporary post-911 global definition of a terror group, (including those definitions adopted by the UN and its agencies).

Perhaps, even going by the definition of terrorism in 1804, (if there was one then) no writer has ever made any reference to terroristic acts by the 1804 jihadists. Historians and other scholars who wrote on and researched the 1804 jihad extensively have never referred to it as a terrorist organisation or cited instances where the movement engaged in the killing of un-armed civilians or declaring the forced conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, as an objective.

The emergence of the Usman Dan Fodio Jihad in 1804 was basically to purify the practice and observance of the true teachings of Islam as contemplated by sharia law. Boko Haram’s intention ab initio was the creation of a caliphate and perhaps the conversion of everyone to Islam or their version of Islam. My conclusion here is, while the initial and immediate causes or triggers of both movements could be attributable to social and economic inequality in society they significantly differ in their objectives, principles, ideology, strategies, methodology and tactics.

In my view, quite a number of terrorism studies tend to focus attention on investigating the causes and impact of terrorism to nations and the global order, as a result, most scholars have examined the topic by assuming that every Islamic organisation is a terrorist group, even if its objectives, tactics and methodology do not feature of any acts of terrorism or perpetration of violence. In fact even if group’s objectives is humanitarian or philanthropic assistance to the poor. An example of such movements is the Islamic Brotherhood in some Arab and Maghreb countries. Such scholars usually reach far-reaching conclusions without placing a clear distinction between a truly non-violent jihadi movement and a purely terrorist organisation. A number of these studies regard the two as one embodiment and therefore treated in similar passion. This effectively means the conclusions and findings of such studies are likely to be more generalised and perhaps questionable. For example Idahosa (2015), simplistically concludes that both jihadists and terror groups aim only at enforcing the sharia law and strict adherence to the doctrines of the Quran. This pattern or approach creates deep vacuum in understanding the differences that exist between the two.

It is because of these serious gaps that exist regarding the uniqueness in philosophy, ideology, objectives and tactics of jihadi groups and terror groups that I intend to provide credible evidence supported by empirical data that shows where the differences are by using the example of the 1804 jihad and Boko Haram. This will come in my next write-up.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here